Oprah’s W MI focus group keeps dialogue open

14 West Michigan residents featured on CBS's "60 Minutes" Sunday

60 Minutes, Oprah, focus group
The members of a focus group facilitated by Oprah Winfrey for "60 Minutes" watch the episode. (Sept. 24, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When Oprah Winfrey made a quick visit to Grand Rapids last month, no one really knew why she was here — except for a group of about 14 people.

Those men and women were part of a focus group that was featured on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” They, along with their family and friends, gathered at New Holland Brewing Company’s Knickerbocker in Grand Rapids Sunday to watch the episode air.

60 Minutes, Oprah, focus group
The members of a focus group facilitated by Oprah Winfrey for “60 Minutes” watch the episode. (Sept. 24, 2017)

Many in the focus group thought it was just for a local company.

“Next thing we know, Oprah walks in and says, ‘Hey, y’all,'” Tom Nemcek said.

“We were pretty shocked,” Maggie Ryan said.

The conversation spanned many controversial topics. The goal was for participants to hear one another, even if they disagreed.

The 14 came with a variety of political, socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, with one thing in common: they were all from West Michigan. In her “60 Minutes” report, Winfrey touched on why the TV news magazine show chose Grand Rapids for the segment.

“Eight months into the presidency of Donald Trump, we wanted to know if the divide was still as deep and bitter as before. So we traveled to a state that played a pivotal role in the election: Michigan,” she said.

Michigan voted for Trump in November, going red in a presidential election for the first time since 1988.

Winfrey’s segment started off showing the general poll the first moderator took of the group.

“How many of you say we’re a divided country?” he asked.

Every hand in the room went up.

The group’s candid conversations dove into topics including the nation’s direction under Trump, questions of Russian conspiracy, health care and same-sex marriage rights. The conversations were serious and at times heated.

That dialogue has continued. In a politically charged climate, group members hope they will demonstrate that our country can have unity amid difference.

“We definitely have been engaging with each other and addressing kind of the differences or where our different ideas come from,” Ryan, an independent, told 24 Hour News 8. “We all love Grand Rapids, we all love the beer here, we love the city and there’s like a lot more that ties us together as people. We’re all worried about the kids in our neighborhoods, our education, what the future generation is going to have.”

“Even though the 14 of us are on opposite sides of the spectrum, we actually get along great and having that conversation is bridging that gap,” Nemcek, a Republican, said.

“Maybe they will hear some (of our conversation) and say, ‘Wow, look there’s a bunch of liberals and conservatives together and they’re getting along and they’re being really pretty civil,” Laura Ansara, also a Republican, added.

“We need to respect each person’s perspective and come to some type of resolution of what is going to be best fitting for the people,” Kim Harris, a Democrat, said.

Winfrey also interviewed U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, while she was in town. That wasn’t included in Sunday’s segment; it’s unclear if it will air at a later date.